At 7:30 am I stand waiting for my van to Antigua, Guatemala. About ten to 8, my driver gives a honk and I scurry over to the van. He is a jovial man with a big belly tucked in with a bright red shirt. You always want your driver to have a cheerful disposition. He has your safety in his hands. We lumber around San Cristobal’s small colonial streets for about an hour to pick up all of our passengers. We leave city limits around 8:30. The gesture of being picked up at one’s accommodations is convenient, luxurious even, but horribly inefficient. Our driver asks each person as they board if they have their passport on them. Confused white faces timidly nod.
Outside of San Cris we traverse the beautiful mountainsides. We all lull into a daze except for the two women in the middle talking about positive energy.
I had to look up the definition of ‘ecotourism’ on Wikipedia because I had the suspicion I’d been duped.
There we sat on our boat idling on the Grijalva River looking at monkeys lounge in the trees above us. The smell of the burning fuel stung our nostrils as we gawked at the monkeys. They had the better seats to gawk at us, high in the trees of Sumidero Canyon.
San Cristobal de las Casas was deemed a “magical village” in 2003 by the Mexican board of tourism and further recognized by President Filipe Calderon as the most magical of the magical villages in 2010. I’m unsure whether state agencies or presidents have the power or prestige of mysticism to make such designations, but one can see what they mean. Here lies the cultural capital of the state of Chiapas, with many local villages, like San Juan Chamula, making significant contributions. Religious ceremony here is almost always accompanied by the local spirit, pox (pronounced poh-sh), distilled from cane sugar and corn. This strong ceremonial liquor augments that “magical” feeling Senor Presidente Calderon was talking about.
We were to take the overnight bus from Oaxaca de Juarez (Oaxaca City) to Puerto Escondido on the coast for some relaxing times. I’m obviously unaware of most the logistics of such a trip, as I don’t live in Oaxaca. I could look it up on some tourist website, but I figured going with a local would be the way to go. Well, the overnight bus never happened. My acquaintance here in the city, Daniel, was running a little late. Around 11 pm, when we were supposed to be boarding our bus, we meet up and I drop my stuff at this apartment. Do I want to go out for a drink? Sure. And then we’ll wake up early for the morning bus. Sure.
The following contains endorsements pertaining to literacy and alcohol consumption.
In front of me was a glass of mezcal and a woman named Sandra rapidly explaining in Spanish everything about what I was drinking. I caught the word horse in there. Is there horse in this? Stomach? This is from horse stomach? NO.
Oaxaca de Juarez –There are these long, skinny balloons that the kids love playing with. Hundreds of colors are available, and two sizes: a normal size, and a jumbo size. You hit one side and it goes shooting up in the air and then it floats around and changes direction. Kids can be seen chasing after them in front of the Cathedral with an enviable sense of innocent joy.
Mexico, D.F. – I’ve read that one pedestrian dies every day in Mexico City. It’s not surprising if you’ve ever tried to cross the street here. It’s rare that there are signs indicating when to cross. One must watch the traffic lights and pay attention to the flow of traffic. The former is fairly simple. Green means go. The flow of traffic and the orientation of the streets and alleys is quite a different matter.
The Mexican driver seems to go as fast as possible at any given moment, twisting and turning with seemingly little regard for anything but speed. Perhaps that is why there are speed bumps EVERYWHERE. On a camping trip over the weekend, after it took an hour to get out of Distrito Federal (D.F.), we were bombarded with what seemed like miles of speed bumps before making it onto the highway out of town. We must have gone over 50 speed bumps. And these are not your speed ‘humps’ as they would call them in the suburban U.S. These are the kind of speed bumps if, like us, you have five people in the car and the trunk fully loaded, the undercarriage of the car is going to take a beating. The bumps are covered in scars as a testament to their maliciousness.
You don’t shake hands with a woman in Mexico. It’s strange. To them, I mean. My generous couchsuring host invited a friend over and when she came in I put out my hand and introduced myself and said ‘nice to meet you’. As you do. No, you don’t. Later, I was told (reminded) that in such a situation, you give a kiss on the cheek. To those citizens of the United States of America (I’ll get to that), it may sound odd, if not sexist. Why don’t you shake her hand? Is she too frail for a firm squeeze of the hand and an acknowledgment of her equality—political, socially, sexually—with men? I don’t know the answer. It’s just not the way things are done. A nice consolation is that it’s completely acceptable, so I’m told, to give a little cheek rub to a man you’ve just met. You, obviously, being a man. It’s true that the kiss on the cheek as a greeting is something that is often lost to most modern citizens of the United States of America. A man kissing another man? Well, we might as well just let them get married together and adopt kids (…).